Samson, a Hero and a Half ! (ii)

At the beginning of Judges 14, Samson sees a Philistine woman, and tells his parents, “I want to marry her”. In 1 Kings 11:2 it’s placed on record that “Yahweh had told the Israelites, ‘You must not marry people of other nations’”. Samson’s parents point this out to him – “Those Philistines are pagans. Why would you want to marry one of their women?” His down-to-earth answer is, “She looks good to me. Get her for me”. For someone of whom we were told that “the Spirit of Yahweh took control of him”, this seems like rebellious, and even incomprehensible, behaviour. 

Not so! The author explains that, “At that time the Philistines were in control of Israel, and Yahweh wanted to stir up trouble with them. That’s why he made Samson desire that woman”. Yahweh, it appears, is up to a few tricks, so quite willing to bend his own rules, and we mustn’t blame young Samson. The biblical God is a creation of the human imagination, and the results are sometimes sublimely inspiring, and sometimes uninhibitedly entertaining. Let’s acknowledge, enjoy and value both. 

On his way to visit this girl, “a fierce young lion suddenly roared and attacked Samson”. Now he’s in trouble, but “Yahweh’s Spirit” again took control of him, with a resulting input of sudden superhuman strength. “With his bare hands he tore the lion apart”. I can’t help being reminded (may I be forgiven) of Popeye the Sailor Man, and his can of spinach. This is great stuff (the story I mean, not the spinach!).

On his next trip to visit the girl, the day of the wedding, Samson noticed a bees’ nest, full of honey, in the lion’s remains. As well as a mouthful of honey, he got a ’headful’ of ideas for making some capital at the expense of the Philistine guests. He set 30 of the young men a riddle based on the carcass and honey – “Once so strong and mighty, now so sweet and tasty”. If they guessed correctly, he’d give each of them a new set of clothing. If not, they’d each have to do the same for him. 

The young men applied pressure to Samson’s bride to find out the riddle’s answer, or otherwise they’d burn her and her family to death. Needless to say, “for the entire seven days of the party, she had been whining and trying to get the answer”. Finally, Samson’s resolve wilted under the incessant pressure. When the 30 young men guessed correctly, Samson knew that his bride-to-be had betrayed him. Here’s another motif with much greater, later significance. Surely Samson, our spirit-filled hero, would learn from this mistake? We’ll see!

In the meantime, Samson had to come up with 30 sets of new clothing. No problem – “the Spirit of Yahweh took control of Samson” with surprising, if not quite shocking, results. Samson went to a Philistine city “where he killed thirty men and took their clothing”, with which he paid off his debt to the wedding guests. The Spirit of Yahweh apparently turned a blind eye to murder and theft! Once again, let’s make the point that the Bible is not a book written by God, but a book written about God by human authors who (to the disquiet or even denial of some readers) are open-minded enough to include in it, some rib-tickling, risqué camp-fire tales that undoubtedly delighted their original audiences. I see no need to get upset about this, or to try to ‘explain it away’, but simply to take it, and enjoy it, as it comes.

Samson, in the meantime, and in a rage, “stormed back home to his family”. The wedding was off, and “the father of the bride had Samson’s ‘wife’ marry one of the thirty young men that had been at Samson’s party”. The stage is duly set for the next rowdy and roisterous act …..

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